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Evie

What are you reading in 2012?

A new thread for a new year, just the old 'what I am reading at the moment' thread.

I have just started Barbara Trapido's Sex and Stravinsky, which I bought for my Kindle.  I somehow missed the fact that she had published a new novel (it came out in the summer, I think), and found it as I was browsing the Kindle store.  Lovely to have a new book by her, and am enjoying it so far, though only a couple of chapters in.

Great to be reading something I want to keep reading...have just posted on my (b)log here that I have abandoned three books in a row, which was frustrating!
Scousedog

Hi Evie, not heard of that one. My bestest prezzie this christmas was the Pillars of the Earth and Follet's newer one, Fall of Giants. That should keep me busy for a while!  Can't get enough of Pillars of the Earth. What a great read it is.

Are you enjoying your kindle?

Scousedog
Evie

I am loving my Kindle!  I bought it thinking I was going to be travelling for a couple of months, and when that fell through I felt a bit guilty...but I have grown to love it anyway!

I keep meaning to read Pillars of the Earth.
Scousedog

I've had a look at a friend's kindle and it looks better than I expected.  I get the impression you can only appreciate it once you've got one.  There must be a discussion on kindles somewhere here so I'll have a root around.
Apple

Scousedog wrote:
I've had a look at a friend's kindle and it looks better than I expected.  I get the impression you can only appreciate it once you've got one.  There must be a discussion on kindles somewhere here so I'll have a root around.
Here is one discussion link scousedog, http://bigreaders.myfastforum.org/about98.html

and here is another one: http://bigreaders.myfastforum.org/about1663.html
KlaraZ

I'm reading 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' in an edition published in 1980, with a conclusion written by Leon Garfield. A great treat, I hope to finish it in time for the TV adaptation next week.
Chibiabos83

I'm reading one of the books E/V has recently abandoned - Babycakes by Armistead Maupin - and, having got past the dodgy opening involving a not very convincing Queen and Prince Philip, am finding it a joy, though a bittersweet one.
Evie

Perhaps I should persevere!  I just wish X hadn't married Y, and that Z hadn't died, and hope Mrs M reappears very soon!  I haven't returned it to the library yet...
Evie

I also hate the word 'babycakes', it's irritated me throughout the series.
Gul Darr

KlaraZ wrote:
I'm reading 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' in an edition published in 1980, with a conclusion written by Leon Garfield. A great treat, I hope to finish it in time for the TV adaptation next week.

Hi Klara. I, too, am reading Edwin Drood; an old edition which belonged to my great uncle, published by Hazell, Watson and Viney, also containing some other miscellaneous writings by Dickens. Are you enjoying it? I am just over halfway through. I also want to read it before the BBC adaptation is screened, but I didn't realise it was as soon as next week! Still, there's plenty of time to read the remaining chapters.
Jen M

I'm reading Julie Walters's autobiography, That's Another Story, which was lent to me some time ago and which I would like to return.  I am quite enjoying it, but I don't think I would have chosen to read it had it not been lent to me.

My next reading group book is supposed to be Kate Mosse's Labyrinth, which I know is very long and which doesn't particularly appeal to me.  I might have to put Julie to one side to tackle that one.   Sad
Joe Mac

Hi Jen. I read Labyrinth a few years ago and found it pretty poorly executed. Nice idea, but I didn't buy any of it - the chief value in it was the bits of history I was able to glean. Waste of time otherwise. Hope that helps  Very Happy

I'm reading a crime thriller by Robert Wilson called The Silent and the Damned, which is set in Sevilla Spain. Wilson is quite clever at maintaining tension and keeping the reader guessing. It's pretty relentless and very bleak though, for the most part.
It doesn't help that I've been sick while reading it. I wonder how much this can colour one's appreciation of a story. If I was feeling sunny and energetic I might not have found it bleak at all.
This reminds me of the Richard Adams Novel Shardik, which I read on a miserable 27-hour third-class train ride in India in 1976. As I recall, the book made my circumstances seem worse and my circumstances probably made the story worse. I've always held it against Adams for producing such a turkey and inflicting it on my vulnerable self. Perhaps I've been too hard on him and it.
Caro

Hi Joe,

Hope you're feeling better.  Shardik somehow didn't have the charm of Watership Down, but I don't remember it specially well. Did he write other things later?

I have just started The Moonstone - 20 pages in and loving it!  The portrayal of Betteredge is delightful; is he an unreliable narrator perhaps?  His attitudes to women are somewhat satirically portrayed by Wilkie Collins, I feel.  I am reminded of The Remains of the Day and don't think that is just because of their similar occupations.  

I feel sure I read this at university but don't remember it at all, and certainly not the laugh-out-loud humour.  My son and dil also read it recently and were ambivalent, but she said it is the first 'real' book she has read for years (very bright young woman but has done a lot of fanfic reading in recent years).  I just find a paragraph like, "On hearing those dreadful words, my daughter Penelope said she didn't know what prevented her heart from flying straight out of her.  I thought privately it might have been her stays.  All I said, however, was 'You make my flesh creep.' (Note bene:  Women like these little compliments.)" very funny.  (Of course the very word 'stays' makes you smile.)

There is something about the style of this I find very appealing - we aren't given authorial guidance as in Trollope but there is still the feeling of a very definite authorial content behind the narrator.  I hope it retains this level of entertainment.  

Cheers, Caro.
TheRejectAmidHair

The Moonstone is an absolurte delight, as is The Woman in White. I had actually forgotten how funny Wilkie Collins could be!
storrrm

I've just tonight finished The Collector by John Fowles which is the book group read. Has anyone read it? I found it quite gripping, lots of themes to chew on too.
Joe Mac

Caro - Adams certainly wrote other things, but I've only ready one - The Plague Dogs, which I enjoyed. It was actually quite a grim tale of two canine escapees from an experimental lab in the English Lakes District, where unspeakable things were done to them in the name of Science.
Sandraseahorse

storrrm wrote:
I've just tonight finished The Collector by John Fowles which is the book group read. Has anyone read it? I found it quite gripping, lots of themes to chew on too.


Gosh, I read this many years ago - about the time that the film with Terence Stamp came out (He was far too good looking to play The Collector IMO).
Ann

I'm reading The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris (for my book group) and I'm reading The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund Do Waal. The latter has been lent to me by a friend so I'm only reading it in safe places where it shouldn't get splashed or damaged. The J Harris started well and she is a clever atmospheric writer. However there is something a bit samey about her books and I'm less impressed than I used to be. However I find myself reluctant to put it down whenever I pick it up so I'm glad it is this month's choice. It is annoying to plough through something hoping it will improve because of a group meeting. On the other hand sometimes I have persevered with a book and been glad I did.
The Hare WTAE is rather disappointing me. I had heard such wonderful things about it prehaps I was expecting too much. I'm only about a quarter of the way through so perhaps I will eventually really enjoy it.
I've also re read a Terry Pratchett (Making Money) and galloped through a Ruth Rendall which I can't remember the name of. Members of the Beeb board may recall there was a poster there called Ruth Rendall is my God and I think of her when I pick up a story by that author. She is a good writer who has very gripping plots. It was an Inspector Wexford story which I thought were done well on television. I can't remember the actor's name, and I think he is dead now, but I saw his face when I read the book
Green Jay

storrrm wrote:
I've just tonight finished The Collector by John Fowles which is the book group read. Has anyone read it? I found it quite gripping, lots of themes to chew on too.


I read this many years ago when quite young (!) and found it incredibly creepy - would probably find it even more distasteful now - the young woman's vulnerability and so on.
Green Jay

I am still reading P D James' Death Comes to Pemberley on my Kindle (which I am growing to love, though I still can't find a menu option which tells me "more to explore...". It's the new Kindle, btw, so may be slightly different set-up from others' here). I'm finding this quite un-Austenlike and stodgy, but will keep on. The Kindle is nice for reading in bed, especially while eating breakfast cereal - hands not needed to keep the right page open!

And I have just been to the library and stumbled on Romanno Bridge by Andrew Greig which I think Evie had put as one of her best reads of last year, so I've now got well into that, when I should have been doing something other than reading.
Chibiabos83

Is it bad to confess The Collector is one of my favourites? It may give the wrong impression. I have rarely read a book where I felt so uneasily compelled to turn the pages. Nice nasty twist at the end too.

I'm reading a book called Mac Beth (I think) by William Someone. Hasn't really got going yet. Some witches and stuff, and I'm not really into SF/Fantasy.
Castorboy

Ann wrote:
..... and galloped through a Ruth Rendall which I can't remember the name of. Members of the Beeb board may recall there was a poster there called Ruth Rendall is my God and I think of her when I pick up a story by that author. She is a good writer who has very gripping plots. It was an Inspector Wexford story which I thought were done well on television. I can't remember the actor's name, and I think he is dead now, but I saw his face when I read the book

I agree they made excellent TV with George Baker as Wexford - he died not too long ago.
chris-l

When I retired, four years ago, one of my ambitions was to read 'A la Recherche de Temps Perdu' in French. Time has passed, and I hadn't even arrived at the point of purchasing copies. But now I have my Kindle (sorry, I know I'm turning into a Kindle bore) so that excuse no longer had any validity. Yesterday, I 'purchased' the first two volumes.

The intention is to read a few pages a day, so this could well turn into a lifetime occupation, but I made a start yesterday evening. I was a little nervous that my comprehension might not be quite up to the task, so after reading the opening paragraphs, I found my translation and checked what was there. It was quite a boost to discover that I had understood the French pretty well, so I shall not resort to the translation again unless I get completely lost.

I know some of you are reading or have recently read, Proust. I'm not sure that my progress will be sufficiently rapid for me to make any useful contribution to the discussion, but who knows? I have read the translated books a couple of times over the years, so the main characters and events are familiar to me, but the plot is hardly the most important aspect of Proust's work, as I think you will agree. For me, this is a bit of a journey of discovery, to find out if Proust's original words give an added dimension to my enjoyment of the novels.
KlaraZ

Re: What are you reading in 2012?

Evie wrote:

I have just started Barbara Trapido's Sex and Stravinsky, which I bought for my Kindle.  I somehow missed the fact that she had published a new novel (it came out in the summer, I think), and found it as I was browsing the Kindle store.  Lovely to have a new book by her, and am enjoying it so far, though only a couple of chapters in.



I like Barbara Trapido too, and I very much enjoyed 'Sex and Stravinsky', although I have a rather poor memory, and as I forgot to take any notes (something I do more frequently now!) I've forgotten a lot about it--my fault, not Trapido's! I'd love to read her series of novels that begins with (I think) Temples of Delight and ends with The Travelling Horn Player again, loved them.
TheRejectAmidHair

Hello Chris, may I just say I envy your ability to read Proust in French. I still need to come to grips with Proust - if only in translation!
Gul Darr

Yes, Chris, boone chance with the Proust! I try and read a couple of French novels every year, but I don't think I'd be up to tackling Marcel.
Jen M

RN Singer wrote:
Hi Jen. I read Labyrinth a few years ago and found it pretty poorly executed. Nice idea, but I didn't buy any of it - the chief value in it was the bits of history I was able to glean. Waste of time otherwise. Hope that helps  Very Happy

... reminds me of the Richard Adams Novel Shardik, which I read on a miserable 27-hour third-class train ride in India in 1976. As I recall, the book made my circumstances seem worse and my circumstances probably made the story worse. I've always held it against Adams for producing such a turkey and inflicting it on my vulnerable self. Perhaps I've been too hard on him and it.



You have reinforced my prejudice about Labyrinth - thanks Sad  Perhaps I won't feel so bad if I give up on it.

I also read Shardik, and The Plague Dogs.  I can't remember much about either, although I do remember (as you say) that The Plague Dogs was about dogs who escaped from a vivisection centre (?) in the Lake District - I think the setting was probably well depicted.

Caro - Richard Adams also wrote The Girl in the Swing, which was quite different to his 'animal' books, and which I bought a couple of years ago in a charity shop with the intention of re-reading it.  Maybe later in the year.
Jen M

Ann wrote:
I'm reading The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris (for my book group)  The J Harris started well and she is a clever atmospheric writer. However there is something a bit samey about her books and I'm less impressed than I used to be. However I find myself reluctant to put it down whenever I pick it up so I'm glad it is this month's choice. It is annoying to plough through something hoping it will improve because of a group meeting. On the other hand sometimes I have persevered with a book and been glad I did.


I know what you mean about Joanne Harris, Ann; I have read a number  of her books simply because I had a friend who rated her books highly and who bought me a couple of them for birthdays, then passed a couple more on to me when she was having a clear out.  I might not have bothered with her otherwise - the themes are the same, even if the settings are different.  

I also often find book group books are worth persevering with - not always, though.
chris-l

Himadri, I think you should take your own advice on Proust - 'Go on, you'll like it - honest!' I don't think there is anything intrinsically difficult about the books, but they do demand a huge amount of time, which is the problem which makes an awful lot of people give up.
TheRejectAmidHair

I have read through the Scott-Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright translation, but reading something like this through only one is really no more than dipping one's toes into it. At first reading, one only gets to know it superficially, but I really need to spend much longer on it, to live with it, and really get to know the thing.
storrrm

General consensus on The Collector was that everyone enjoyed it, some more than others. Surprisingly (to me) quite a few felt some sympathy for him which I didn't at all.

Next up is Brideshead Revisited which i've never read so i'm looking forward to it.
Ann

storrrm wrote:


Next up is Brideshead Revisited which i've never read so i'm looking forward to it.


I like Evelyn Waugh very much but Brideshead is probably not my favourite. It is a great deal about nostalgia and is also quite slow starting. However the characterisation is superb. I think his comic novels are his best books and, if you have not tried it, I would recommend Scoop which is one of the few books that make me laugh out loud.
Sandraseahorse

I am reading "Bloomsbury" by Nicholas Murray and dipping into "An Indiscretion in the Life of an Heiress and other stories" by Thomas Hardy.
The Hardy book I bought on ebay and it turns out to be an ex-library edition in pristine condition.  I know we've had this discussion before on this board but I really can't see the point of selling off library stock of established writers.
Castorboy

chris-l wrote:
I have read the translated books a couple of times over the years, so the main characters and events are familiar to me, but the plot is hardly the most important aspect of Proust's work, as I think you will agree. For me, this is a bit of a journey of discovery, to find out if Proust's original words give an added dimension to my enjoyment of the novels.

A blogger, Emma, on http://bookaroundthecorner.wordpr...om/2010/10/27/a-summer-in-balbec/
has compared the French and English translations and has written a number of very comprehensive reviews of the sequence of novels. She is a real enthusiast!
Evie

I am now reading Phil Rickman's Prayer of the Night Shepherd, on my Kindle, one of the Merrily Watkins books (Merrily Watkins is an Anglican vicar on the Welsh/English borders who is also the diocesan 'deliverance consultant' or sort of exorcist - lots of supernatural fun).  I was reading these in order and then some of them went out of print, so I had to skip a couple - I was delighted to see this one (the one where I had to leave off the series) advertised on Amazon as being reprinted in February of this year, and pre-ordered the Kindle version a while back - even more delighted when it was delivered to my Kindle just before Christmas.

Phil Rickman does write really quite badly, but the characters and stories are just compelling.  This one seems to be set around a murdery mystery event in a hotel, where the mysteries are Sherlock Holmes stories - there is a belief that Hound of the Baskervilles was inspired not by Dartmoor but by the hotel (a former Victorian house) and its surroundings in Herefordshire, where Conan Doyle is thought to have stayed.  No murders yet - but these are always great fun.

(Absolutely loving reading on my Kindle these days.)
Gul Darr

Chris, I am sure reading Proust in the original French will add greatly to your enjoyment of his writing. I am reading Les Misérables in English this time, and although it is still a great read, I can't deny that something is missing.
Jen M

Jen M wrote:
RN Singer wrote:
Hi Jen. I read Labyrinth a few years ago and found it pretty poorly executed. Nice idea, but I didn't buy any of it - the chief value in it was the bits of history I was able to glean. Waste of time otherwise. Hope that helps  Very Happy



You have reinforced my prejudice about Labyrinth - thanks Sad  Perhaps I won't feel so bad if I give up on it.



Well, Labyrinth has been moved to February, which means we will only get 4 weeks to read it, instead of the 5 I was anticipating.   I shall have to brace myself all over again.  Mad
Evie

Hurray - I think it's lunchtime - which means I can justify an hour with Phil Rickman!   Very Happy
Caro

I have been making my way slowly through The Moonstone, mostly twenty pages at night, though today I read some this morning.  I am still really enjoying it.  I have finished the narrative of head steward, Gabriel Betteredge and am now on to Miss (Drusilla) Clack's.

I find the way Wilkie Collins uses the individual voices in the novel really striking, it's not something all authors manage well.  Of course with Miss Clack he has someone he can easily caricaturise.  The last  paragraph I  read says, "Once self-supported by conscience, once embarked on a career of manifest usefulness, the true Christian never yields.  Neither public nor private influences produce the slightest effect on us, when we have once got our mission...We are above reason; we are beyond ridicule; we see with nobody's eyes, we hear with nobody's ears, we feel with nobody's hearts, but our own.  Glorious, glorious privilege!  And how it is earned?  Ah, my friends, you may spare yourselves the useless enquiry!  We are the only people who can earn it - for we are the only people who are always right."

Betteredge is a more complex character.  In his case the author pokes more gentle fun at him, his attitudes to women (Collins has very modern views on many things, women's intelligence, the possibility of the poor taking on the rich, the need for religion to be tempered with commonsense, etc.), his style of writing (many note benes litter his account, ways of defining people), his way of trying to account for his natural curiosity, etc.  But also there comes through the knowledge that Betteredge is a decent man who is keen to be helpful, useful and supportive.  He is also used to give a fairly objective account of the people around him, I think.  

I have been surprised at how funny this book is and wonder why I don't remember how good it is from university studies.  Was I too young for it?  did I have just too many serious books to read in a short time? was I put off by studying them academically? (Don't think so.) Have I just forgotten what I thought of them?  

It is so readable; I don't always expect to enjoy a literary book so much while I am reading it (sometimes they are little hard going and more enjoyable in retrospect or when talking about them), but this one I do.  

Cheers, Caro.
Mikeharvey

Hello Caro, pleased you're enjoying THE MOONSTONE so much.  Have you read THE WOMAN IN WHITE which some people think is better?  Collins' ARMADALE and NO NAME are also excellent and well worth reading.
Ann

I would second that, Mike, and also strongly recommend Poor Miss Finch which is very funny indeed
KlaraZ

Glad to hear you've got another Phil Rickman to read, Evie; I find his writing style rather problematic, but I love his characters so much, I don't mind. Each new Rickman book means being reunited with old friends, esp.lovely Lol Robinson.

I've finished reading 'Edwin Drood' up to the point where Dickens died, and am now eager to watch the TV version. Meanwhile, I'ver started reading 'Skippy Dies' by Paul Murray, which is hugely enjoyable at times, and then frustratingly long-winded at others. I am enjoying it, but can't help feeling that it's twice as long as it needs to be. Rites of passage, set in a Dublin boarding school, some very good writing. Short-listed and long-listed for several awards, but so far, the book hasn't won any of them.
Chibiabos83

I loved Skippy Dies when I read it last month, Klara. Just my kind of book, I suppose, so I wasn't really conscious of its dragging. I wrote something about it here: http://bigreaders.myfastforum.org/sutra27496.php&highlight=#27496 (Maybe best not to read it until you've finished.)
KlaraZ

Thanks! I'll take a look at your post when I've finished the book. Glad someone else on here has read it!
Evie

Klara, I completely agree about Phil Rickman - his characters are wonderful, and I just love being in the world he creates in these books.  Am finding it really hard to put it down!  I still have a couple more I haven't read too, so that's great.  And fab to see them being republished.

Still hoping for a TV series...with James Darcy as Lol Robinson.
Green Jay

I've begun Bleak House on Kindle and am loving it. I find it very engaging, and not longwinded, which I never did with any Dickens when I had to read him - or any lengthy classic - as a set text. Perhaps also with Kindle I can't see the enormous size of the book to get through. I really believe that reading literature 'under orders' can do the opposite of set up a lifelong love of it.  And at university I was supposed to read books so quickly, there was never time to savour and enjoy because a tutorial and an essay was due, and next week it would be on to something or someone else. But I don't know what the answer is. Outside of study I was a devoted reader, and quite quick, I think, from the earliest days.
TheRejectAmidHair

Green Jay wrote:
I've begun Bleak House on Kindle and am loving it. I find it very engaging, and not longwinded, which I never did with any Dickens when I had to read him - or any lengthy classic - as a set text. Perhaps also with Kindle I can't see the enormous size of the book to get through. I really believe that reading literature 'under orders' can do the opposite of set up a lifelong love of it.  And at university I was supposed to read books so quickly, there was never time to savour and enjoy because a tutorial and an essay was due, and next week it would be on to something or someone else. But I don't know what the answer is. Outside of study I was a devoted reader, and quite quick, I think, from the earliest days.


It’s a difficult one: if we are to accept that literature is a subject worth teaching, then it is hard to see how it can be taught without detailed analysis, essay assignments, tutorials, etc.

As for enjoying what one hadn’t enjoyed before, we should also take into account the changes in our own personality and perceptions, and our altered receptivity to various things. I, for instance, am far more receptive now to Austen than I had been, and am less inclined to see her extremely sophisticated works as the “chick-lit-in-period-costume” of popular perception. My last attempt at reading her novels, some 5 or 6 years ago, was not entirely successful, but I did catch glimpses, at least, of a keen literary intelligence that I think I had previously missed, and find myself thinking back on various aspects of her work that, in retrospect, strike me as rather fine. I’m sure I’ll be more receptive to her novels now, and plan to read all six shortly. And then, no doubt, I’ll look back on some of the comments I had previously made on her works with a deep embarrassment, and thank heaven that posts on discussion boards are so transient in nature.
Evie

I read a quote from Muhammad Ali (who is 70 today) on the internet this morning - 'If you still see the world the same at 50 as you did at 20, you have wasted 30 years' - good comment!

I think when we are studying there are times when we cram things into too short a space of time in order to meet essay or tutorial requirements, but I do also think that what we learn when we are studying does stick, and does enhance our understanding and enjoyment of reading later on.  Having to think analytically and then to verbalise our ideas is a great tool, even if we don't all use it as directly or consciously once we are no longer students.  I was opened up to ideas at university (I did a literature degree, albeit in French and Italian) that I would never have come across otherwise, even if at the time I sometimes wrote my essays grudgingly and failed to prepare adquately for tutorials and felt that I wanted just to sit and read and not think so much!  Now I can do both (though admittedly I do more of the sitting and reading than I do of the thinking and verbalising!), and I'm grateful for that.
Castorboy

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:

It’s a difficult one: if we are to accept that literature is a subject worth teaching, then it is hard to see how it can be taught without detailed analysis, essay assignments, tutorials,etc

Which shouldn't be a drag if the novel has, in fact, been read seriously and not just the synopsis or summary which is possible if some students today believe that will count as having 'read' the novel.
Caro

It's a long time since I was a student but I know some students did that then too.  I read the books fully (though some I didn't bother with at all - can't have needed to somehow - I never and still haven't opened Saul Bellow's Mr Sammler's Planet) and in French when they were part of my French literature course.  I don't recall objecting to analysing them or writing essays, but I just don't seem to have remembered them well, except for L'Etranger where the tutor drummed into us the salient points.  Some I recall more than others - Ulysses (but still vaguely and probably helped by the film), Tess, The Mill on the Floss, Pamela, Vanity Fair, Jane Eyre, Tom Jones, but others like the Dickens' ones, most of the Conrads, Henry James, Wilkie Collins, Northanger Abbey, The Mandelbaum Gate are just a blur, or were till I re-read them.  And I think it probably had something to do with having to read so many at a quite young age.  I remember having a long list of books to get through in the holidays and though holidays were long, we had to work in them and I now take weeks to read a single serious long novel.  

Cheers, Caro.
chris-l

Chibiabos83 wrote:
I loved Skippy Dies when I read it last month, Klara. Just my kind of book, I suppose, so I wasn't really conscious of its dragging. I wrote something about it here: http://bigreaders.myfastforum.org/sutra27496.php&highlight=#27496 (Maybe best not to read it until you've finished.)


I bought a copy of 'Skippy Dies' in a charity shop the other day. I went in to drop off a bag of books that would never be read again in my house. The lady on the till looked a little puzzled when I took the book up to pay: 'But you've just brought in a whole load of books', she said. 'Yes, so now I've got room for one more', was my reply!

I don't know when I shall get around to reading it, but I will try and remember this link when I do!
KlaraZ

I've now finished 'Skippy Dies'  and I do recommend this book, and endorse the things Chibiabos83 has said about it in the earlier post.  I still think that a little more editing wouldn't have gone amiss, but there's some great writing here--funny and moving, often very painful but very recognisable too.  The 'Automator' is a truly loathsome person, and I daresay that many of us who've ever worked in an educational  institution have met a version of him. And there's so much there about the agony of adolescence too...
Green Jay

Caro wrote:
but others like the Dickens' ones, most of the Conrads, Henry James, Wilkie Collins, Northanger Abbey, The Mandelbaum Gate are just a blur, or were till I re-read them.  And I think it probably had something to do with having to read so many at a quite young age.  I remember having a long list of books to get through in the holidays and though holidays were long, we had to work in them and I now take weeks to read a single serious long novel.  

Cheers, Caro.


That's similar to my experience, Caro. I was never not reading. And reading fast and scrappily, as I can now appreciate.

I have absolutely no objection to detailed analysis, and I enjoyed the challenge of writing the essays (sort of enjoyed). I just find it perplexing that as a keen and reasonably serious reader I did not enjoy the process of reading more at the time; nor many of the actual books. I know as a teenager I had always avoided and disliked reading anything pre-20th century but since some of these are now among my favourite books and the few I will re-read, why was it so hard at the time? And I can only think it was the vast quantity of required reading. I rarely had time to read much around the subject  (except in a desperate, skim-read, note-taking way with just the books I could lay hands on,*) as I would do now if something takes my interest. Yet university is supposed to be the stage when you have time to do just that. It wasn't even as if I had a great social life or masses of student-y activities which took up all my time. I was a little bit older than many of the other students, and settled with my partner, so not out hunting! I was quite a dedicated student compared with many.

* Writing that makes me think that it was partly the desperation that marred the experience, rushing to the library to grab what was available before someone else did, the frustration when all relevant volumes had already disappeared - and often been nicked, so they wouldn't even come back to the short-loan section before the week was up. I bought very few books, I had no money. I couldn't afford to invest in books I wouldn't be using again after next week's essay was handed in. I wonder if the situation is better or worse now?
iwishiwas

I'm about to start The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which has been on my shelf since its first release in 2009! Now my friend wants to see the film so I'm reading the book first!
Evie

I have started a new Phil Rickman - The Fabric of Sin - having felt bereft after finishing the previous one.  Perfect comfort reads!  Will start something more substantial soon.
Chibiabos83

KlaraZ wrote:
The 'Automator' is a truly loathsome person, and I daresay that many of us who've ever worked in an educational  institution have met a version of him.

I'm dealing with one at the moment...
Green Jay

KlaraZ wrote:
I've now finished 'Skippy Dies'  and I do recommend this book, and endorse the things Chibiabos83 has said about it in the earlier post.


Confused   Every time I see reference to this book I imagine it's about a famous kangaroo. I think I'm getting all mixed up with Me Cheeta, which also came to prominence around the same time.

Still, about time we had a novel about a famous kangaroo...
MikeAlx

"Tied Down": a misery memoir, finally released following a lengthy libel case, brought by one Rolf Harris?  Wink
Evie

I may be about to read my first MR James ghost story...  My current Phil Rickman novel is based around Oh Whistle And I'll Come To You, My Lad (he always has a literary or historical focus - the last one connected with Conan Doyle), so I feel I might have to read the story itself...  Have downloaded James's stories onto my Kindle (they are free, so I downloaded two volumes), but life and death are scary enough without adding specifics to the scariness, which is why I generally don't read scary books!  But I will overcome my wussiness.
TheRejectAmidHair

Evie wrote:
I may be about to read my first MR James ghost story...  My current Phil Rickman novel is based around Oh Whistle And I'll Come To You, My Lad (he always has a literary or historical focus - the last one connected with Conan Doyle), so I feel I might have to read the story itself...  Have downloaded James's stories onto my Kindle (they are free, so I downloaded two volumes), but life and death are scary enough without adding specifics to the scariness, which is why I generally don't read scary books!  But I will overcome my wussiness.


Enjoy!
Evie

pale
Evie

A hugely enjoyable story, but not remotely scary!  But I don't seem to get scared by these things, despite being easily spooked generally - didn't find Turn of the Screw scary either, though loved it.  Now watching Jonathan Miller's 1968 adaptation of Whistle..., and already realising why many fans of the story don't like it as an adaptation.  Good to see it, though.
TheRejectAmidHair

I suppose it goes to show that what scares us is every bit as subjective as what makes us laugh. I find The Turn of the Screw terrifying, as I do "Whistle and I'll Come to You".

I didn't care either for Jonathan Miller's adaptation (although the shot on the beach with the figure following him was very memorable) or for the recent adaptation. however, back in the early to mid 70s, BBC adapted a number of these stories as one-off Christmas specials. (The last in the series was of a Dickens story - "The Signalman" - featuring Denholm Elliott, and a script by a then unknown screenwriter called Andrew Davies.) These adaptations are excellent, if you can get hold of them. I still remember being terrified as a 12-year-old by "The Treasure of Abbott Thomas".
Evie

I have seen one of those, and I see there is a DVD of them (the 1970s ones, I mean) with an introduction by Christopher Lee.  I enjoyed the Miller film, but only when I stopped comparing it with the story!  A very personal interpretation, but I liked that, and Michael Hordern was superb.

I now have two volumes of MR James's ghost stories on my Kindle, so will look forward to reading those - and with a bit less trepidation than previously!  I really did love reading Whistle...  More humour than I was expecting too - lovely writing style.
county_lady

A book that has been sitting unread on my shelves for sometime, Firstborn the third volume of the Times Odyssey trilogy by Arthur C Clarke and Stephen Baxter.
When reading the second volume Sunstorm I thought it  pedestrian compared to the vigour and brilliance of Time's Eye so felt no compulsion to read this final part. Starting now I'm hoping the writing is equal to the science. Neutral
Caro

I finished The Moonstone not long ago and while it was immensely enjoyable, it was still a 19th century classic of over 400 pages of small print.  Now I am reading The Black Death by Professor John Hatcher, an odd amalgam of history and fiction (really, it's history, with just a few characters to put words of the past into) and naturally not a bundle of laughs.  Out first book club book for the year is Little Daughter by Zoya Phan set in Burma with the author making her way to a refugee camp and thence to Britain.  I don't expect it to be particular easy reading, at least as regards subject matter.

So I have out the library a Simon Brett crime novel, The Witness at the Wedding.  He's no great shakes as a writer, but it will be light and fluffy and that's what I want for a change.  Must not put my black death book aside for too long though.  

Cheers, Caro.
Mikeharvey

Hello Caro,
A few years ago I and a few others spent a Writers' Week with Simon Brett in a country farmhouse near Bordeaux. He's a delightful chap and I have rarely laughed so much.  We wrote and performed a whodunit.  He was most interesting about writing 'After Henry' for BBCTV and radio.
Sandraseahorse

He lives not all that far from me and I've seen him speak a few times at local Literary Festivals.  Each time it was a different theme (Diaries, Parodies, Detective Stories) and the talks were both erudite and witty.  I agree with Mike that he is very charming.
Chibiabos83

Perhaps he's not in the absolute top rank of writers, but I think the original radio version of After Henry is one of the most enduring creations - superbly plotted and acted. Whenever I listen to it, I always find myself thinking what a wise and sympathetic man he must be.
Mikeharvey

Simon Brett talked to us about Joan Sanderson who played Prunella Scales' mother in 'After Henry'. It seems that in the later episodes she was suffering from cancer, had to wear a wig, but gamely soldiered on.  Very sad. She was one of those actresses who livened up anything she appeared in.
Castorboy

Caro wrote:
So I have out the library a Simon Brett crime novel, The Witness at the Wedding.  He's no great shakes as a writer, but it will be light and fluffy and that's what I want for a change.  Must not put my black death book aside for too long though. Cheers, Caro.

That's interesting, Caro, because that novel is part of Brett's Fethering series of crime novels featuring the two ladies. Similar titles are The Suicide in the Stables or The Body on the Beach - you can see the pattern! I think that is why I enjoy the Blotto & Twinks series!!
Caro

From NZ I tend to see British writers only as novelists and get a little surprised when they turn up writing newspaper columnists or running or attending workshops etc.

In 2004 I wrote to Simon Brett after reading one of his novels (I must have been quibbling about comments about the Tichborne claimant, and no doubt prefacing that with some nicer remark) and he wrote back very nicely thus:  

Dear Carolyn (if you can do it, I can), [I must have been uncertain how to address him]

Thank you very much for your letter, which has been sitting in my In-Tray for longer than it should. I’ve just been finishing the next in the Fethering Mystery series - The Witness at the Wedding – and I’m afraid at such times correspondence gets shamefully – and possibly shamelessly - neglected.
I’m glad elements of Murder In The Museum struck chords, and also that you responded to the middle-classness of the book. I would undoubtedly have been more successful as a writer had I some gritty deprived background to write of, but I’m afraid, being born into the aspirational just-lower middle-class, that is what I chronicle.
As to your cavil about the Tichborne Claimant, I think I can defend myself for calling the joke ‘obscure, academic, and completely pointless’. The fact that it rings a bell with you, although you can’t remember the details, makes it sufficiently ‘obscure’ – if it was too obscure, nobody would have a clue what I was talking about. It’s certainly donnish or ‘academic’, and the fact that only the similarity of sound has any relevance to the character to whom the nickname is applied makes it ‘completely pointless’ in my book.
(Incidentally, the original ‘Tichborne Claimant’’s real name was Arthur Orton. Born in Wapping in 1834, he emigrated to Australia in 1852, where he met Sir Alfred Joseph Tichborne, 11th baronet. After the latter’s death in 1866, Orton went to England, claiming to be the baronet’s eldest son, Roger, who had previously been believed to have drowned in 1854. Orton’s claim was dismissed, he was found guilty of perjury and sentenced to 14 years hard labour. Released in 1884, he admitted his imposture, and died in 1898.) I do hope that all is well in New Zealand. My sister-in-law and family have just emigrated to Hawkes Bay, so I dare say I will find out what the country’s like myself at some point.
With all good wishes,
Yours
Simon


The Witness at the Wedding is the one I am reading now.  Although it's enjoyable enough, I do sometimes find myself thinking that if Himadri were to pick this up in a shop he would very quickly put it down again!  The main characters are a little much like caricatures for my liking.
Evie

What a great letter!  He does seem a nice man.  I don't think I've read anything of his - though I do *love* After Henry, especially on the radio.
TheRejectAmidHair

Caro wrote:
.    
The Witness at the Wedding is the one I am reading now.  Although it's enjoyable enough, I do sometimes find myself thinking that if Himadri were to pick this up in a shop he would very quickly put it down again!  


Oh, I don't think so. There are very many good writers around, the quality of whose prose makes me turn green with envy. (Good writers wouldn't, of course, use such hackneyed expressions as "turn green with envy"!) The issue I have been trying to highlight is that there is also much that is of a poor standard, and that if we fail to distinguish between the two, the good writing becomes obscured.

Quote:
The main characters are a little much like caricatures for my liking.


I like caricature, if it's well done. I'm a Dickensian, after all! Smile
mike js

After a little break from reading fiction I am now reading the first of 'The Borrowers' novels, for some low-energy bedtime reading. I have Christopher Priest's new novel waiting for a read, but I have to be a bit wider awake for that one!
Chibiabos83

I've just been pointed towards this article Simon Brett's just written about depression and writing. Quite interesting. Perhaps this is the wrong thread for it, but as we've just been discussing him here...

http://www.moodscope.com/about/supporters/simon-brett
Evie

Thanks for that, Gareth - excellent article.
Evie

I am trying to decide what to read next - maybe The Odd Women by George Gissing, or Zola's L'Assommoir.  Having read a couple of (hugely enjoyable) light reads, I want something a bit more substantial now.
TheRejectAmidHair

I've never read Gissing - not even New Grub Streer? Another one for the list...

If you do decide to read L'Assommoir, I don't think you'd regret the choice. It's set in the Parisian slums, and for me, Gervaise is up there with the likes of Tess as one of the great tragic protagonists.
Evie

New Grub Street is excellent - and I found it interesting as a novel written in the 1890s, part of the Victorian tradition yet looking forward in some ways to the developments in the 20th century.
Evie

I tried to start L'Assommoir last night, but the free version on my Kindle is a horrible translation - I did find another on Project Gutenberg that was slightly better, but have decided to get a copy of the actual book!  One of the problems of free downloads on Kindle...

Or maybe the Kindle is just better for lighter reads.   Interesting.
TheRejectAmidHair

It’s not really a good idea getting older out-of-copyright translations of Zola, as they are very often bowdlerised.  I’d guess any translations from the last 50 or so years should be OK.
Evie

The first one was so clunky it read almost as though it had been put through some  translation software!  That's a bit harsh, but it was awful.  The second one was slightly better, but I can't believe it did any kind of justice to the original.  Will definitely get a more up to date translation - though I should really read it in French, of course!
Gul Darr

Why not, Evie? I'm sure you're more than capable and you don't have to decide which translation to go for! I'm looking forward to reading Au Bonheur Des Dames later this year.
Evie

Hmm, we'll see - French is a bit rusty!  Would do me good though.
TheRejectAmidHair

I don't mean to put you off, Gul, but Au Bonheur Des Dames (read in translation, of course) is the only one of the eight or so I have read so far that I found a bit disappointing. As ever, Zola had his finger on the pulse, and his depiction of people becoming primarily consumers rather than cotizens - i.e. being increasingly defined in terms of what they consume - really is very prescient. But this did seem to me to be a novel in which the background eats up the foreground: the individual characters in the forefront seem dwarfed by Zola's depiction of social and economic trends.

But as I say - I don't mean to put you off. You may well disagree with me.
Evie

I have decided to read the Rougon-Macquart novels in order...a kind of project for the year, interspersed with other things (won't read them all this year, of course, not even the ones available in English).  There is a new translation of The Fortune of the Rougons due out later in the year, so I will start with The Kill (La Cure).  The only one I have read is The Masterpiece, which I thought was fabulous, if such a grim novel can be fabulous, so I am looking forward to reading more.  I will read them in English, though!  May try something shorter and more modern to get back into reading French novels...

In the meantime, I have started a Simon Brett novel, inspired by a conversation elsewhere on the board - a Mrs Pargeter novel, which has had me laughing out loud several times in the first three short chapters - definitely what I need!  That will be my bedtime/coffee break reading; may start on Dickens or something else until The Kill arrives.
Evie

Or...have just realised the Kindle edition of the same translation of the Zola is cheaper, so have ordered that instead, and will test out my theory of whether the Kindle is only good for light material!  But it means I can start straight away.   Very Happy
chris-l

Evie, I have downloaded a cheap French-English dictionary onto my Kindle, and find it very useful for checking unfamiliar words without having to get up and look in my big dictionary. One of the interesting things about using the Kindle is that you can easily look up words which you are unsure about, even with English texts. I often come across English words of which I vaguely know the meaning, but now that I can find a precise definition as read, I have been checking more often.

I haven't tried any French-English translations so far, but I do have some German and Russian novels in translation waiting to be read, so I hope they are better than your Zola.

I don't know what the actual process is for transferring text into digital format, but I do often come across errors and 'typos' that must have crept in as part of the process. Not usually a problem, but now and again I am faced with a word that I really cannot figure out, or one that could have started life as more than one possible option.
Evie

Thanks Chris - though I think I'd find it easier to use a separate dictionary rather than move between the two on the Kindle.  And I don't think it's just vocab, it's fluency generally that needs a bit of practise - just think I might start with something easier.  I do read French regularly, but only short pieces or bits of art history, where you don't need to understand every word.  But the dictionary on the Kindle is a great idea anyway.  And reading Zola in the original is something to aim for!

I wanted to thank those of you who discussed Simon Brett on this thread - thanks to that discussion, I downloaded the first of his Mrs Pargeter novels - A Nice Class of Corpse, I think it's called - onto my Kindle, and am loving it.
Ann

I'm reading The Great Gatsby for my reading group and a very good fantasy book by Daniel Abrahams. I would recommend him for those of you who like the genre.
KlaraZ

Having not enjoyed the first episode of Birdsong on TV (and not bothered to watch Part 2), I've now read the book. I expected to like it far more than I did, and I was surprised to find how underwhelmed I was. There are certainly some powerful passages, esp. the parts describing Firebrace and the sappers, but I found the book very uneven indeed. The part describing the 'present' (or rather 1978) through the eyes of the dreary grand-daughter was very poor I thought, and the last chapter was a cliche ridden anti-climax. Some of the writing strikes me as over-literary and pretentious, esp. the early sex scenes. Overall, rather a disappointment. And yet this is supposed to be a great novel; I wonder if I missed something?r
MikeAlx

I also thought the 70s section was weak (not just weak, but redundant), and was glad they didn't bother with it in the adaptation. I think the ending was partly anticlimactic because of that (1970s) middle section - it substantially undermined the suspense. I did generally enjoy the book though - apart from anything else, it exposed an aspect of the war that wasn't widely known up until then.
Green Jay

KlaraZ wrote:
Having not enjoyed the first episode of Birdsong on TV (and not bothered to watch Part 2), I've now read the book. I expected to like it far more than I did, and I was surprised to find how underwhelmed I was. There are certainly some powerful passages, esp. the parts describing Firebrace and the sappers, but I found the book very uneven indeed. The part describing the 'present' (or rather 1978) through the eyes of the dreary grand-daughter was very poor I thought, and the last chapter was a cliche ridden anti-climax. Some of the writing strikes me as over-literary and pretentious, esp. the early sex scenes. Overall, rather a disappointment. And yet this is supposed to be a great novel; I wonder if I missed something?r


No, you didn't, Klara. I had much the same reaction when I read it, following its wide praise and exposure in the media. I think this book was hugely overhyped and although it is much loved by many readers I think they were somewhat blinded by the hype, & the seriousness of the war theme, to its many weaknesses.
KlaraZ

I remember being far more impressed by Pat Barker's 'Regeneration' trilogy.
Caro

I loved both Birdsong and the Regeneration series (especially the first one) but I do particularly like books set round the edges of war and with Birdsong I think the fact that I was able to read it in large chunks while on holiday rather than the usual ten minutes in bed at night made a difference.  Must try it again with other people's criticisms in mind.  

Cheers, Caro.
Green Jay

KlaraZ wrote:
I remember being far more impressed by Pat Barker's 'Regeneration' trilogy.


I'm with you there again, Klara, though I can only claim to have read the first one of Barker's trilogy.

'Over-literary and pretentious', is I'm afraid, my reaction to quite a bit of Faulk's writing, though I think Charlotte Grey is the best one of his novels for consistency in the writing. I haven't read his latest books as I was really put off by On Green Dolphin Street. I was also put off by his 'doing' a Bond book - really not my thing. And that kind of fits with my response to his unsatisfactory drawing of most of his female characters; they're a function of the plot rather than a breathing person, and in Green Dolphin St their personalities seemed to be reduced to a decription of clothing.

The first world war books that have impressed me most are those written by people involved - Goodbye To All That, All Quiet on the Western Front, Testament of Youth,and Death of a Hero by Richard Aldington. I wish such primary sources were as widely touted to modern readers as more recent fiction is. There is something so immediate about them; I wonder if young modern-day readers would be surprised that these authors were not at all 'antique' and unfamiliar in their feelings and reactions.
Sandraseahorse

I was going to post something similar to Green Jay.  I haven't read "Death of a Hero" but I've read the others and I would add Seigfreid Sassoon's "Memoirs of an Infantry Officer" to the list.
Evie

I read Siegfried Sassoon's diaries some years ago - one of the most moving things I've read about war.  He charts brilliantly (and heartbreakingly) the transition from going off to war as a young man, full of the glory of it and excited about going, to the hell of reality in the trenches and the shattering of that idealism.

I have always found Faulks's writing mediocre - the only one I managed to finish was Girl at the Lion d'Or, for a book group years and years ago, which was not good, and have tried two or three since then, including Birdsong, but always given up because they were bad.  Won't be trying any more.  I thought he was excellent on those programmes he did about books for BBC4 last year, though - much better at that than at writing novels!
MikeAlx

I was amused to see some vocal objections to Birdsong coming from twitchers, who were offended to hear collared doves singing in the woods of Amiens in 1910 (or whenever it was). Apparently they were not around in France until the 1940s.

I agree first-hand accounts are of primary importance; however these come in various forms with different pros and cons, and sometimes a longer historical perspective is needed. For example, the best known accounts are invariably by officers; most were written about 10 years after the war, by which time a certain view of the war (the "futility" viewpoint) had set in (much to the annoyance of many who served). In the case of Graves, he was flat broke and deliberately introduced elements that he knew would help sales. One of the best known non-officers' accounts of the Western Front is by George Coppard; however, he didn't write it until the 1960s. The account of the Royal Welch (Graves' and Sassoon's regiment) which is reckoned most accurate and thorough is that of their medical officer, Capt J C Dunn (The War the Infantry Knew) - however it's extremely dry and far less popular than Graves.

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